Part of the G15 group of London’s largest housing associations, the GLA Development Panel and strategic partner of the London Mayor, Network Homes is a leading voice for delivering quality homes and investing in communities.
John Rowan and Partners talks to David Gooch, Executive Director of Development at Network Homes, about the state of the housing market and how with strong partnerships they continue to build quality homes in an uncertain climate…
Talking to David at their Wembley Park head office, just a few metres away from the famous arch, it’s clear that housing has been an overarching theme throughout his career. With over 30 years in the sector, David joined Network Homes in 2014 before moving into his current role last year.
“I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of working in the housing development & regeneration sector,” he says, “I love the challenge of developing mixed tenure developments that include homes for sale and shared ownership, but where there is a significant proportion of genuinely affordable high-quality homes for rent.”
“Our greatest challenge has been in securing our own development land”
Now responsible for delivering Network Homes’ ambitious development programme, which includes building around 5,000 new homes over the next five years and meeting its target of 1,752 new homes as a GLA Strategic Partner, he will also oversee new joint ventures including the 575-home site at Merrick Place in Southall. But while there’s still an insatiable demand for affordable housing in London, David explains that delivering homes in the capital is challenging:
“There is a lot of competition with so many active development players in London, so our greatest challenge has been in securing our own development land so that we can take control of the design and building process using trusted consultants and contractors. Our hard-earned reputation for delivering award winning developments has put us in a good position to work with public and private landowners, and more recently we have successfully concluded two significant land acquisitions with an NHS Trust. The planning system in London is still tricky to navigate, particularly on large sites where we work with both the host local authority and the GLA.
“Our developments outside London are focused in Hertfordshire and we are looking to strengthen our programme with Homes England to escalate the scale of this programme. This is quite different from our London programme, which focuses on apartment living in taller buildings, as we deliver a broader range of property types such as houses and bungalows.”
“We have also undertaken scenario planning in terms of the impact of Brexit on the construction workforce and materials that are sourced from Europe, in order to ensure that housing delivery continues. “
Housing associations have been cross-subsidising affordable homes through private sales for a number of years now. But with continued house price uncertainty in London, due in part to Brexit, Network Homes has noticed that some private firms have been much more cautious when it comes to committing to new developments, in some cases withdrawing completely. The Network Homes New Business & Partnership Team are actively considering a multitude of opportunities, but they are identifying which ones to progress and are in dialogue with the GLA & local authorities to maximise the number of affordable homes that can be delivered on sites.
Brexit has damaged confidence in the market at a time when house building is reaching crisis point. But for housing associations such as Network Homes, hibernation is not an option and, for the greater good of the country, they need to keep on delivering housing:
“We’re very driven in terms of what our growth strategy is, and so in order to keep delivering housing we undertake a lot of due diligence stress testing on our developments. We have also undertaken scenario planning in terms of the impact of Brexit on the construction workforce and materials that are sourced from Europe, in order to ensure that housing delivery continues. From the demand side, we are finding that people still want to access our homes for rent, shared ownership and sale, and we had strong demand for our London Living Rent pilot scheme in Harrow and our Build to Rent development in Ealing,” says David.
“It’s quite interesting in the marketplace now – we have been approached by developers that are looking to offload some developments”
Being part of the GLA Development Panel and a Strategic Partner of the London Mayor is a great opportunity for Network Homes, opening doors to more public land by building relationships with health trusts and other public bodies.
“It’s quite interesting in the marketplace now – we have been approached by developers that are looking to offload some developments,” he continues. “But I think our preference is always to be involved right from the start so that we can shape the design and bring our own consultant teams like John Rowan and Partners. It’s important that we bring our own approach to it.”
Working with John Rowan and Partners
Network Homes has been working with John Rowan and Partners for ten years now. To date, John Rowan and Partners has successfully helped them to deliver close to 500 new homes, with the partnership continuing to deliver more over the coming years, including a 150-home scheme in Hounslow which includes a new primary school.
David explains: “Working with consultants like John Rowan and Partners is very important to Network Homes. That level of site supervision and all the quality checks ensure that we are building quality homes – a factor which is at the core of Network Homes. Building quality is just so important. Personally, I’ve worked with them for about five years now, but their relationship with Network Homes goes back much further. When I first joined, they were doing a really exciting project in South Kilburn, a multi-award-winning regeneration scheme. That was my introduction to them and since then they’ve been involved in our plans to redevelop our head office site, which we call the Olympic Office Centre and our Housing Zone development on the Hounslow Town School site. They’ve been involved with the big projects for us and they’ve also done some of the building forensics work where they help to find defects on previous projects. They have great expertise in this and are a bit of a go-to now for that sort of work.”
“Working with consultants like John Rowan and Partners is very important to Network Homes. “
Talking to David it’s clear that he’s proud of the work that has been put into developing the company’s professional frameworks – and this work is not lost on other organisations and local authorities such as Brent Council, who have asked to utilise the Network Homes Development Team and their frameworks for their own projects. It’s these relationships that are helping them weather the storm of uncertainty and driving Network Homes towards its ambitious targets.
“I think it’s what we pride ourselves on. It takes a significant resource, but we have our own professional frameworks – our architects, our employers agents, our engineers – and ideally we take control of a scheme and have our people in from the offset. With John Rowan and Partners, we know they are a strong, stable practice. They have longevity in terms of their management team and they’re very accessible. Not only do they come with a wealth of knowledge, but they always resource projects appropriately and to scale,” says David. “They are in regular dialogue with my directive team just to ensure that if there are any issues, they are picked up early and dealt with. That’s in their DNA really, making sure client care is at the forefront.”